Young Professional Spotlight: Courtney Waldron, City of Lawton, OK

Courtney M. Waldron is a Shift Supervisor for the City of Lawton in Lawton, Oklahoma. Lawton has over 90,000 residents, not including the Fort Sill Military Installation, and is the county seat for Comanche County. Courtney began her career with the City of Lawton in August 2018 and quickly rose to the rank of Shift Supervisor by March 2022. Her coworkers describe this promotion as a “direct reflection of her staunch loyalty to the dispatch center and her job performance.” Courtney exemplifies professionalism in her abilities as a telecommunicator. She embraces the ever-emerging technologies facing our profession and strives to ensure her staff is prepared for any challenges. According to her fellow telecommunicators, “the commitment on her part [is] paramount in the dispatch center’s continuous operations” and success.

Courtney grew up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, before going off to college at Oklahoma State University. From there, she went directly into public safety via emergency communications. “I have always had a desire to serve in public safety,” explains Courtney. Her first job in public safety is with her current agency, the City of Lawton. Courtney admits that originally it was the stability and benefits that drew her to the public safety sector. However, during her application process with the City of Lawton, she began exploring what it truly meant to be a telecommunicator. The more she researched, the more it became evident to her that there was so much more meaning to the role she was applying for. According to Courtney, “The chance to be a part of something so much bigger than [she] was and to be able to add some value to that job was very enticing.” Most importantly, she realized she could find a family in her coworkers, units and community she served.

A typical day for Courtney consists of overseeing the day-to-day operations of her shift. This includes assisting with incoming phone calls, monitoring outgoing calls and relieving her staff for breaks. During the shift she will also complete various supervisory duties such as timesheets and evaluations as time allows. As if those tasks weren’t enough, her coworkers describe Courtney as the “go-to” person when staff members have questions regarding technologies in the center. Her integral involvement in various technological upgrades that have taken place within the center has truly made an impression on her colleagues. Her coworkers further explain that, due to her competencies and proficiencies in telecommunications, Courtney was used as the primary trainer for new telecommunicators who were transitioning from the training academy to on-the-job training on a dispatch console – a feat that requires them to become intellectually competent on five different consoles operating several computer programs simultaneously. Courtney instructed seventeen telecommunicators while still maintaining her other duties.

When asked where she sees herself in five years, Courtney remarks that she hopes to continue her journey of self-improvement. She said, “As I am always striving to better myself, I hope that in five years, I am a better version of myself that is still contributing to my community.” She also admits she would not shy away from moving to the next level within her center, the position of Deputy Director, if the opportunity were to present itself. Outside of fulfilling her professional goals, Courtney also hopes to “establish a lifelong connection with not only [her] coworkers but also the community that [she] serves.” She appreciates the fact that there is always something one can learn in this field. She hopes that she can one day use this knowledge and her skills to advance public safety, not only within her community but with as broad a reach as she can.

Courtney explains that the most enjoyable aspect of her job is training and mentoring the next generation of telecommunicators. Courtney says that “9-1-1 is such a high stakes and dynamic profession, [she] feels that we should always be pouring [everything] into our dispatchers”. She enjoys spending her time with younger individuals who are looking for a career and showing them all the positive and rewarding aspects that come with public safety telecommunications. Courtney highlights the sense of pride she feels serving her community and the importance of the role. She believes that we should be giving everything to the upcoming generation. “One day, the individuals that we have mentored will be replacing us as the next generation of leaders,” says Courtney, so it is up to us to make sure they are prepared to tackle the role.

When asked about staffing in the public safety sector, Courtney explained that she did not feel that getting applicants in the door seemed to be the problem. However, she admitted that there seems to be a disconnect between applicants and retention. She notes that of the many applicants she sees, the number that continue for any substantial length of time is minuscule in comparison. When asked for her experiences on why this is, she cites many of the common factors, such as job-related stress, difficulties with shift work and/or schedules, or inability to handle the workload, which is often exacerbated by the never-ending advancements of technology. Courtney recognizes that the obvious solutions to these issues will always be the discussion of work environment and leadership, but she feels the root of the problem is bigger than that. She feels that the core solution to attracting and retaining young professionals to the public safety sector long term lies with states recognizing public safety telecommunicators as the first responders that they rightfully are. More so than the recognition, they would then need to be subsequently provided with the same benefits that are granted to their fellow first responders.

As far as engaging the development of the current young professionals in the field, Courtney believes the key to doing this is to “understand that everyone is different, and everyone learns in different ways.” Courtney urges all leaders to understand that you must recognize not only your own learning style but also the learning styles of those around you. You must then cater your training to match their various learning styles. Only then will you be sure to educate and mentor all employees equally and in a manner that they can successfully navigate through the profession. It isn’t enough to simply teach them, she says; we must also ensure they are learning effectively.

Courtney recognizes that technology is currently at the forefront of our profession. This poses a unique opportunity for young professionals as they have grown up in the technological culture and environment. The young professionals of the future bring a “youthful spirit that can handle the fast pace of chaos,” according to Courtney. However, Courtney recognizes that we should always be learning from everyone around us. While the younger generation brings a unique familiarity with technology to the table, Courtney says she admires the “work ethic and belief [in] longevity within an organization” that the previous generations are known for. Courtney acknowledges that bridging the gap between the generations can be difficult and is often one of the biggest obstacles that young professionals face. All generations in the workforce are in this together, though, and need to learn from each other as we navigate the ever-changing world that is our field. As far as what the future holds for public safety telecommunications as a whole, Courtney expects that we are rapidly approaching a day where we “will see artificial intelligence become a working part of 9-1-1 call taking and first responder dispatching”.

When asked what advice she would give to a new telecommunicator, Courtney says, “You are about to enter one of the most fascinating and challenging careers. How you fare in this profession and how you handle those challenges is up to you. Preparation is the key to your success; you should start right now with how you will process and cope with the many traumatic events you will encounter in this job. Having a healthy coping mechanism and support system in place will greatly aid in a timely recovery from such events.” Mental health issues have come to the forefront of our industry in recent years, and Courtney urges that we all need to be sure we have the appropriate resources available to deal with the traumatic events we encounter daily.

“We have one of the most important jobs within our respective communities, and we need to take care of those who take care of our citizens. Our employees are our the most valued assets within our centers, and they should be treated as such.”

When nominated to be recognized for a young professional spotlight, her coworkers stated that “there [were] many accolades that [could] be used to describe Ms. Waldron – team player, leader, teacher, confidante – but none of them can truly describe what her contribution to emergency communications has meant to our success. Her energy is contagious, and her ‘can-do’ attitude is infectious”.

If you know of a young professional who deserves recognition, nominate them here.